The Power of a Good Kindergarten Curriculum

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A Thinking and Feedback chart from Traka Smith’s kindergarten classroom at the Curley K-8 School

Last week approximately 35 Rhode Island teachers and coaches began learning how to implement an interdisciplinary kindergarten curriculum developed by the Boston Public Schools (BPS). This training is part of a pilot project sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) with the aim of supporting developmentally-appropriate, Common Core-aligned kindergarten teaching and learning. 23 kindergarten teachers from 8 districts are implementing Boston’s curriculum this fall with professional development support from BPS and coaching support from the Education Development Center (EDC). I’m running this project for EDC and will share highlights from the initiative in a few posts over the next couple of months.

This initiative began with RIDE identifying a need to support teachers and districts in improving kindergarten practice in ways that are both consistent with how kindergarteners learn best and aligned with the Common Core standards. RIDE then worked with us at EDC to develop an approach that began with the state’s first ever kindergarten conference this past September and continues with the curriculum and coaching pilot. In an effort to build district capacity, coaches from each district are joining the kindergarten teachers in the professional development sessions and participating in special coach training days.

The BPS Early Childhood Department has received wide acclaim for its best-in-the-nation city-wide prekindergarten results. As I have written about previously, BPS has shared its prekindergarten curriculum and coaching model with a number of community-based preschools in the city. The Early Childhood Department has gone on to develop curricula for kindergarten and 1st grade, and there are plans to develop a 2nd grade curriculum as well. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is working with Boston to support districts around the state in implementing the kindergarten curriculum, setting the stage for Rhode Island’s pilot curriculum and coaching pilot.

BPS’ kindergarten curriculum is characterized by these core features:

  • The curriculum revolves around 90-minute interdisciplinary activity centers. As the Early Childhood Department conceives of them, the centers are designed such that, “children learn through play, projects, peer interaction and hands-on materials. Kindergarteners engage in critical thinking and creativity, integrate concepts, and practice new skills independently and with peers.”
  • Integral to the effective implementation of centers is a brief but targeted Introduction to Centers in which new activities are described (and sold) as well as a whole-group Thinking and Feedback session at the end of the centers block. During Thinking and Feedback, the students follow a protocol as 1-2 students present something they created during center time and their classmates ask questions and provide feedback, building a “culture of feedback” within the classroom. The protocol includes these steps: looking, noticing, listening, wondering, and finally, inspiring and suggesting.
  • The curriculum comprises four units, all of which include social studies and science activities: Our Community, Animals and Habitats, Construction, and Our Earth. Each week, students focus on a high-quality fiction or non-fiction text that is tied to the unit theme. Teachers conduct multiple read-alouds with each text throughout the week, each with a different purpose.
  • There is time outside the 90-minute centers block for work on foundational literacy skills using BPS’ Working on Words or a commercial program like Fundations. Schools continue using whatever math program they currently use (TERC in Boston).
  • A key feature of the curriculum is daily story-telling/story-acting time inspired by Vivian Paley.
  • The curriculum also places much emphasis on extended discourse and culminating projects.

This initiative is generating an unusual level of enthusiasm among teachers, coaches, and school and district leaders. RIDE expanded the kindergarten conference and still was not able to accommodate all who wanted to attend, and the pilot filled up quickly as well. This level of interest suggests that the need RIDE identified is one that many teachers, principals, and district leaders perceive as well.

The BPS kindergarten integrated curriculum is available at no cost on the Early Childhood Department’s website. The name of the curriculum is Focus on K2 (kindergarten is called “K2” in Boston). You can also find an excellent video on Focus on K2 by WGBH by going to this link and scrolling down. For more information about the BPS Early Childhood Department, see this Atlantic Monthly article and this PBS video (the latter is on preschool math).

 

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